Camping Guide:Redwoods State & National Parks

redwood forest

Coastal redwoods are easily one of the most impressive sites nature has managed to paint across this land. California, full of impressive trees–from Joshua trees in the south to Sequoias in the Sierras–is home to the vast majority of remaining redwoods on the planet, and you’d be hard-pressed to find full groves, such immaculate examples, of these specimens as you will in the collective Redwoods State and National Parks.

Named so because they include lands managed by both the United States’ National Park Service and California’s own state park system, this region along the northernmost shores of the Golden State’s coast is a chain of parks, trails, campgrounds, beaches and small towns that feels at times more like Peter Pan’s Neverland than something that could exist in our own world.

Considered “temperate rainforest,” the biggest thing travelers looking to camp in the region should understand is that to grow trees this large, you need a lot of rain. And salmon bringing nutrients upriver as they head to their birthplaces to spawn, bears to fish them from the waters and animals like coyotes and raccoons to drag the bear’s leftovers deeper into the forest. While these are all beautiful additions to a majestic wood, the key point to impress here is that you’re unlikely to have a trip of any length into this forest without seeing at least a rain shower or two. Between 10″ and 15″ falls into the forest every month during the wintertime, and while the summer months are considerably less wet, a coastal mist may hang around your campsite even when the clouds aren’t opening up themselves.

This only adds to the mystique and magical nature of the redwoods, creating something out of a Twilight novel, obscuring vision and casting illusions, along with other massive flora, as one stares into the deepness of what essentially amounts to a North American jungle.

While several roads–often thin, hairpin turn-laden affairs where your mirrors will find themselves a little too close for comfort to the towering giants which line the roads–meander through the parks, finding a good hike is definitely the way to get up close and personal, and truly appreciate the grandiose scale of the forest you’ve come to visit. Short strolls and 12-mile long hikes alike can be had, and a myriad of options in between for those looking for exactly the right length of time to spend their day beneath the canopy. Record-setting tall trees, the tallest in the world, live here, and some hikes will take you to signage declaring exactly what makes a particular tree so special, while others will leave you guessing which trees have made it into Guiness’ rotation, the park service not wanting to shine too bright a light on them in an effort to discourage vandalism.

Watch for blue “Xs” sprayed on some redwoods, leftover from the weeks just before the area became protected, when existing logging contracts sent lumberjacks abuzz trying to knock down as many of these amazing plants down before they would never have the chance to do so again.

Camping is abundant, and comes in a variety of flavors.

RV Camping in Redwoods State & National Parks

All camping within the parks occurs within the California State Park system. Reservations are highly recommended, and downright required in the warmer months. Camping exists in the park year-round.

Jedediah Smith Campground (GPS: 41.7982, -124.0842), in the similarly named state park, is the quintessential “camping in the redwoods” experience. Your site will back you right up to the giants, and many of the sites are separated by the moss-laden, dense foliage that comes part and parcel with the redwoods, giving you extreme privacy even when you’re only a few yards from your neighbor. A short hike across the river takes you to Stout Grove, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more pristine example of a group of redwoods within such an easy jaunt from your vehicle anywhere else in California. There’s a visitors center across the street, in the opposite direction of the trail to the Stout Grove.

South of Jedediah, Mill Creek Campground (GPS: 41.6998, -124.1203) in Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park offers a similarly secluded, right-beneath-the-redwoods experience.

Beyond those two, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park has two campgrounds that can accommodate our Trail Mix RV rentals, crowd favorite Elk Prairie (GPS: 41.359, -124.03) and Gold Bluffs Beach (GPS: 41.3837, -124.0692), the latter being the premier place to camp within view of the Pacific. If you’re planning your trip early, and don’t mind packing up (doing so in our Class B RVs is so easy to do anyway, you might as well!) every day to explore the parks, it can be fun to try and book a night in each of, or at least several of, these campgrounds, giving you ample access to all of the types of trails and terrains one can find in the park. Sites at Elk Prairie Campground are not, in many cases, positioned immediately beneath the big guys, but instead you’ll find yourself in a young forest with plenty of access to solar and grass surrounding you. A few spots live beneath “smaller” redwoods, still taller than most trees you’ll see on this planet, but it’s a different vibe and, while perhaps not as impressive as the other offerings in the area, works well if you want to keep the solar panels humming.

All of these state park campgrounds offer flushing restrooms, pay showers, trash service and a picnic table and fire ring at most sites. None of them have hookups, though water is available if you need to fill up your tank and then return to your site. These sites cost $35 per night.

More Camping near Redwoods State & National Parks

There are dozens, over 50 in fact, campgrounds (most of which are private RV parks) along the stretch of coastline that runs from Trinidad, California to Crescent City, most of which are just as beautiful as those found in the state parks, but with more amenities…and a higher price tag.

Places like Emerald Forest Cabins & RV (GPS: 41.0725, -124.1442) continue the theme of parking beneath and between the titans, but toss in old timey buildings where you can stock up on supplies and enjoy a hot shower, connect to WiFi (though, it’s relatively rural, so don’t expect much) and plug right into an electrical outlet. They offer bike rentals, a game room, cable TV hookups and even a laundry room. The perfect “retreat” when you need to take a break from roughing it out there in the state parks.

Ever wanted to camp completely surrounded by elk? Elk Country RV Resort (GPS: 41.2239, -124.0881) all but guarantees you’ll be doing just that, plus full hookups and–should the elk grow old–a place to toss a few horseshoes around. Laundry, hot showers and a modicum of cell service round out the bill.

Florence Keller Regional Park (GPS: 41.8069, -124.1517) provides similar scenery to what you’ll find in the state parks, and similar amenities, but at about half the price.

If you brought the kids along, Crescent City-Redwoods KOA (GPS: 41.8213, -124.1455) provides all of the amenities Kampgrounds of America are known for (think playgrounds, camp store, ice cream social) but surrounded by redwoods, including a short trail between their massive trunks.

At the complete opposite end of the parks, Patrick’s Point State Park (GPS: 41.1347, -124.1549), south of Trinidad (and not officially part of the system of parks to its north), offers wooded camping with short hikes to dramatic cliffs overlooking the ocean and sands below.

While the coastal redwoods don’t end with California’s northern border, and grow as far south as Big Sur, there is absolutely nowhere better to experience these ancient creatures than in the preservation of the National Park System and its partners.

Cover photo by Juri Knauth.